1.1 Research in Geography [Meaning & Importance]

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1 Department of Geography GEO 271 Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things. - Waldo Tobler s First Law of Geography 1.1 Research in Geography [Meaning & Importance] 1.2 Generating Research Ideas 1.3 Research Processes - Steps in Scientific Research 1.4 Conceptual Steps in Scientific Inquiry 1.5 Ethical Considerations in Research 1.1 Research in Geography [Meaning & Importance] 1.2 Generating Research Ideas 1.3 Research Processes - Steps in Scientific Research 1.4 Conceptual Steps in Scientific Inquiry 1.5 Ethical Considerations in Research The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible. - Albert Einstein Research is a complex phenomena. In simple terms, it may simply mean finding out about something. It is a form of inquiry. Research seeks solutions, new knowledge and understanding. Research is a subset of invention. Definition. Research is the systematic process of collecting and analyzing information to increase our understanding of the phenomenon under study. It is the function of the researcher to contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon and to communicate that understanding to others. In a knowledge society, research is context specific and multidisciplinary rather than pure and discipline based; it has social relevance rather than being hypothesis led; it uses fuzzy, rather than empirically based data; it is problem solving rather than deductive (Involving inferences from general principles). Have two major forms of research in geography. Exploratory and Confirmatory. 1

2 Exploratory research is research into the unknown. It is used when you are investigating something but really don't understand it all, or are not completely sure what you are looking for. Confirmatory research is where you have a pretty good idea what's going on. That is, you have a theory (or several theories), and the objective of the research is to find out if the theory is supported by the facts. Also have Descriptive research - describing better or alternatively exemplifying what is already known in a new context. 1.1 Research in Geography [Meaning & Importance] 1.2 Generating Research Ideas 1.3 Research Processes - Steps in Scientific Research 1.4 Conceptual Steps in Scientific Inquiry 1.5 Ethical Considerations in Research Research ideas are generated from: (a). Theory - an organized body of concepts, generalizations, and principles that can be subject to investigation. e.g. Distance decay ("decreasing occurrence of events, activities, and effects with increasing `distance' from the location from which these things originate or from which they exert influence") (b). Personal Experience - Questions that you ask yourself (c). Replication - Testing features of a published study/work Prerequisite for the foregoing is that, one needs to: have an inquisitive and imaginative mind; and have a questioning attitude. Why? Qualities of Good Research Topics (a). Interesting keeps the researcher interested in it throughout the research process (b). Researchable can be investigated through the collection and analysis of data (c). Significant contributes to the improvement and understanding of educational theory and practice 2

3 (d). Manageable fits the level of researcher s level of research skills, needed resources, and time restrictions (e). Ethical does not embarrass or harm participants 1.1 Research in Geography [Meaning & Importance] 1.2 Generating Research Ideas 1.3 Research Processes - Steps in Scientific Research 1.4 Conceptual Steps in Scientific Inquiry 1.5 Ethical Considerations in Research Research means to study something carefully in order to learn something new about it. The scientific method is a way of doing research. In a broad perspective, it usually involves several steps which will be explained below: definition of the problem, looking for explanations or solutions, and measuring and experimenting. (a) Definition of the research problem A research problem is the situation that causes the researcher to feel apprehensive, confused and ill at ease. It is the demarcation of a problem area within a certain context involving the WHO or WHAT, the WHERE, the WHEN and the WHY of the problem situation. Formulating the research problem begins during the first steps of the scientific process. As an example, a literature review and a study of previous experiments, and research, might throw up some vague areas of interest. Many scientific researchers look at an area where a previous researcher generated some interesting results, but never followed up. It could be an interesting area of research, which nobody else has fully explored. Research problem is also referred to as the purpose of the study. Research problems can be defined in different ways, perhaps best illustrated by different types of questions. In geography they are questions of spatial inquiry: 3

4 - What is there? - What is it made of or how is it made? They can concern a spatial process or cause and effect: - Why has that happened? - How does it work? They can raise questions of spatial time or place: - What was that like before? - What will it be like? - Where did it come from or go to? - Is it the same here as there? They can be problems of human activity or control: - What can be done to change that? - How can we keep that from happening? - Is there a better way to do it? - If I do this, what will happen? - How can we get more, or do it more easily? In geography, the research problem often seeks to provide explanation in terms of: (i) Relational Explanation That is explanation is simply concerned with relating the individual object/phenomena or event to be explained to other individual object/phenomena or events which we have experienced, and which either through familiarity or analysis, we no longer find surprising. This form of explanation simply seeks to provide a network of connections between individual object/phenomena or event. 4

5 (ii)deductive-predictive Explanation This form of explanation seeks to establish statements or `laws' and show, empirically, that these laws govern the behaviour of the various types of events/phenomena. These laws can be used to predict processes or events/phenomena. Prediction in any science depends at least in part on history, from which future trends are often established. Prediction usually comes about through the analysis of a process. (iii) Model based Explanation This seeks to provide an explanation by way of analogy or model. A model is simply an abstraction (concept, idea or generalisation) used to communicate information about a particular system/phenomena. This is often within the context of spatial analysis. Spatial analysis refers to the investigation of patterns or discernible structure in spatial data. The investigation seeks to provide an explanation of the relationships and interactions between the observed locational pattern of objects in space and other attributes. Spatial analysis constitutes the study of three inter-related themes: Spatial arrangement - refers to the locational pattern of objects under study. Space-time processes - space-time processes are concerned with how spatial patterns are modified by movement of objects or human-space interactions. Spatial forecasting - seeks to predict the likely future patterns. Always remember that, Geography is the study of the locational and spatial variation in both physical and human phenomena on Earth. 5

6 The research problem can be stated as either a question or statement. The research problem should: lead to analytical thinking. lead to possible solutions. divide the research into manageable parts. The statement of the problem should briefly address the question: What is the problem that the research will address? The statement of the problem involves the demarcation and formulation of the problem, i.e. the WHO/WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY. It usually includes the statement of the hypothesis. A problem statement explains what issue or controversy needs to be resolved. (b) Looking for explanations or solutions Once you have defined your problem as specifically as possible, it is normal to think about what the solution might be. Often we can imagine different possibilities or explanations based on what we already know about the problem. Again, the more specific you are in your proposed solutions or explanations, the better the chances of proving them right or wrong. As shall be discussed later, a hypothesis often makes a prediction about the problem's likely resolution. 6

7 (c) Measuring and experimenting Once you know precisely what you want to test, you can make measurements or experiments (that is gather data) to prove or disprove your explanation or to establish the best choice. An experiment is a test or trial to find out how something works or to see what happens. Often it means doing something on a small scale or in a simplified way in order to answer your question. For some kinds of problems, the answer can come from making certain measurements or observations. The design of a good experiment is not always as easy as it seems. There should be only one possible cause of the result of an experiment, that will either prove or disprove your explanation. If more than one interpretation is possible, then your question will not be answered (except perhaps by another experiment). This simplistic way we have just conceived research is called the Scientific method. Scientific inquiry is not composed of a fixed set of steps that scientists always follow all of the time: it is not a single path that leads them unerringly to scientific knowledge. However, there are consistent features of scientific thinking that must be followed. In the scientific method, the validity of scientific claims is settled by referring to observations of phenomena (accurate data). Data is obtained by observations and measurements taken in situations that range from natural settings (such as a forest) to completely contrived ones) such as the laboratory). A key to the objectivity of the data is the notion of random selection. The target observation phenomena (whether they are plants, animals, or human beings) are chosen randomly. 7

8 Characteristics of Scientific Inquiry a) Empiricism. That is the research is derived from experiment and objective observation. b) Systematic and Logical. c) Replicable and transmittable. Since the observation is objective and the explanation logical, anyone placed in exactly the same circumstances can observe the same event and make the same reasoning, leading to the same explanation and prediction. d) Reductive. That is research should reduce the complexity of reality. 1.1 Research in Geography [Meaning & Importance] 1.2 Generating Research Ideas 1.3 Research Processes - Steps in Scientific Research 1.4 Conceptual Steps in Scientific Inquiry 1.5 Ethical Considerations in Research Step 1: THEORY Step 2: HYPOTHESES STEP 3: CONCEPTUALIZATION (defining your variables) STEP 4: OPERATIONALIZATION (specifying indicators for variables) STEP 5: CHOICE OF RESEARCH METHOD STEP 6 POPULATION AND SAMPLING STEP 7 OBSERVATIONS STEP 8 DATA PROCESSING AND ANALYSIS Step 1: THEORY Define the problem then, start with a general theoretical framework (a general view of how the world works); a literature review is a useful starting point. It is important to acknowledge that all research has a theoretical framework. That is, what is known, done about the problem in question. And not what should be. Literature Review (Research) Resources Books; Periodicals; Handbooks; Online journals; Web sites; Government documents; and, Technical reports. 8

9 Purpose of Literature Review Place study in the context of information that already exists and relates to the research topic. Determine strategies, procedures, and instruments that have been found to be productive in investigating the topic. Facilitates interpretation of the results of the study Literature review is a critical look at the existing research that is significant to the work that you are carrying out. Some people think that it is a summary: this is not true. Although you need to summarize relevant research, it is also vital that you evaluate this work, show the relationships between different work, and show how it relates to your work. In other words, you cannot simply give a concise description of, for example, an article: you need to select what parts of the research to discuss (e.g. the methodology), show how it relates to the other work (e.g. what other methodologies have been used? How are they similar? How are they different?) and show how it relates to your work (what is its relationship to your methodology?). Keep in mind that the literature review should provide the context for your research by looking at what work has already been done in your research area. It is not supposed to be just a summary of other people's work! Here are some of the questions your literature review should answer: (a). What is already known in the immediate area concerned? (b). What are the characteristics of the key concepts or the main factors or variables? (c). What are the relationships between these key concepts, factors or variables? (d). What are the existing theories? (e). Where are the inconsistencies or other shortcomings in our knowledge and understanding? (f). What views need to be (further) tested? (g). What evidence is lacking, inconclusive, contradictory or too limited? 9

10 (h). Why study (further) the research problem? (i). What contribution can the present study be expected to make? (j). What research designs or methods seem unsatisfactory? In retrospect, literature reviews should comprise the following elements: (a). An overview of the subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review (b). Division of works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative theses entirely) (c). Explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others (d). Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research In assessing each piece of literature, consideration should be given to: (a). Provenance - what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence (e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings)? (b). Objectivity - Is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point? (c). Persuasiveness - Which of the author's theses are most/least convincing? (d). Value - Are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject? Step 2: HYPOTHESES Based upon your particular world view (theory), you next need to develop a set of hypotheses to guide your research. Hypotheses are nothing more than statements of relationships which are TESTABLE and FALSIFIABLE. 10

11 A hypothesis is a theory about the natural world; a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena. The hypothesis may be one that merely asks whether a relationship exists (correlational research), or the hypothesis may state a cause-and-effect relationship. Hypotheses must specify a relationship for at least two or more variables (association, cause-effect, similarity/difference, etc). A variable is a property of whatever it is that we are studying. If we are studying people, then people have properties like height, attitudes towards something, e.g., environment, etc. These properties VARY by each individual, and thus are variables. All hypotheses should have at least one dependent variable (what is to be explained) and one independent variable (what is used to explain variation in the dependent variable). STEP 3: CONCEPTUALIZATION (defining your variables) When determining which hypotheses will be the subject of your research, you need to define what your concepts i.e., (variables) mean. For example, if you are interested in poverty and the environment, you need to define exactly what you mean (be sure to include all relevant dimensions for each concept included in the hypothesis). A definition of poverty may include a specific income level, amount of wealth/property holdings, employment status, etc. STEP 4: OPERATIONALIZATION (specifying indicators for variables) After defining your variables above in Step 3, you next need to determine what your actual indicators will be. How will you actually measure your concepts? STEP 5: CHOICE OF RESEARCH METHOD This step will probably be decided before this point, but here is a brief list of possibilities (not an exhaustive list): 11

12 a) Library research/literature review for other studies in your area of interest. b) Secondary analysis of existing data sets--analyze data collected by someone else. c) Field research--participant observation, informal interviews. d) Survey research--telephone, mail and personal interviews (structured and quantifiable). e) Experiments--controlled environments. f) Historical research--use of data archives to trace trends over time. g) Evaluation research--examine the impact of an existing policy to see if the specific goals have been achieved, etc. STEP 6 POPULATION AND SAMPLING The next question to consider is: "Who/what do we want to be able to draw conclusions about? Who/what will be observed for that purpose?" Often it is impossible to study an entire population, therefore we typically use samples that allow us to make conclusions about the general population. This can be a very complicated step and will determine the level of confidence you can have in your research findings. It is highly advisable to get help from a resource person (e.g., university researcher) when designing a sample. You must be concerned about such things as sample size and how the sample is selected. Attached you will find a general guide for determining sample size. Be careful of "samples of convenience" or "supermarket" surveys (i.e., surveys of people you know or an extremely biased survey). 12

13 STEP 7 OBSERVATIONS This step concerns the actual collection of data for analysis. This could be the process of carrying out a survey, conducting interviews, doing library research, observing certain behaviours in the field, etc. There are certain "rules" or "procedures" to follow when conducting interviews, surveys and the like. A poorly designed and implemented survey or interview will lead to poor results and decrease the legitimacy of your research. Design issues often take you back to previous steps. Are you asking a question that will get meaningful answers from your target population? Implementation issues involve the training of staff and timing of the research process. STEP 8 DATA PROCESSING AND ANALYSIS Once you have collected your data, they need to be transformed into a form appropriate for manipulation and analysis. Increasingly this means the use of computers. Data needs to be in a format that can be read by any number of software packages. Analysis techniques will depend on the hypotheses you are testing. Sometimes tables will work (using percentages). However, multivariate techniques are required when you are asking which of a dozen factors is most important in explaining some issue. The key to doing research comes in steps 1-3. If you know what the issue is and can define the important/ relevant variables, this will guide you through subsequent steps. 13

14 1.1 Research in Geography [Meaning & Importance] 1.2 Generating Research Ideas 1.3 Research Processes - Steps in Scientific Research 1.4 Conceptual Steps in Scientific Inquiry 1.5 Ethical Considerations in Research The Primary Values: a) SUBJECTS HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOWLEDGE OF THE PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH BEFORE THEY PARTICIPATE. Requirement of informed consent b) SUBJECTS MUST BE PROTECTED FROM BOTH PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL HARM c) SUBJECTS HAVE A RIGHT TO PRIVACY. Principle of anonymity d) SUBJECTS HAVE A RIGHT TO HAVE THE DATA COLLECTED ABOUT THEM AS INDIVIDUALS KEPT CONFIDENTIAL. Confidentiality e) The general purpose of the research. f) what will be done to them during the research g) What the potential benefit to them and others might be. Right to service h) what the potential for harm to them might be i) The fact that they may withdraw at any time, even while a study is being conducted, without penalty. Principle of voluntary participation 14

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